Synopsis: A look at a frightening condition that plagues thousands; sleep paralysis.
Release Date: 06-05-2015 | MPAA Rating: Not rated | Runtime: 1 hr 31 mins | Shadow Men: 3 of 5 | Source: Streaming(TUBI)
Directed by: Rodney Ascher
Starring: Various(poorly documented)
The Nightmare is a documentary about the experiences of eight different people with sleep paralysis and night terrors. The documentary focuses on recounting frightening stories related to sleep paralysis and using a combination of interviews and reenactments to heighten the fear.
I think the stories here were fascinating. The purpose of the documentary wasn’t really to educate, but I got a lot out of hearing so many different perspectives on what sleep paralysis and night terrors are like, and seeing what parts of those experiences seem to be universal and what parts were unique to the individuals. I don’t think any of the interviewees were unsympathetic, and the way their stories were told definitely sucked you in and made you feel some of what they were feeling. I especially liked the guy who talked about his experience trying to fight his way out of sleep paralysis while he was in the middle of it. There was a weird moment where they focused on one woman who became religious because of these experiences and believes the shadow people in her nightmares were demonic entities, but I can’t fault them for telling the story the woman wanted to present.
Since The Nightmare is a documentary I can’t really go into the performances like I normally would, but the interviews were clearly professionally shot and cut together so that things flowed smoothly and rarely got boring or bogged down by having non-performers delivering the narration. Those parts were probably the most well-done aspect of the film.
As for the effects and overall production, The Nightmare has some things going for it, and some things that weren’t for me. The mood and lighting throughout the doc was very shadowy and moody, kind of hearkening back to those old mid-2000s haunting or ghost hunting TV shows that were just not great. The look made the production feel a little low-brow and dated unfortunately, when I think the intended effect was to make things scarier. And I’m referring to the interviews when I’m saying this. It looked like the interviews were taking place in the same sets and lighting arrangements as the reenactments in a lot of cases, which gave the doc a consistent visual aesthetic, I guess, but it just didn’t work for me and it felt hoaky. If the interviews had looked more neutral and less “produced” then I think it would’ve created a nice contrast between that and the darkness and scariness of the reenactments.
Speaking of the reenactments, I don’t have too many complaints there. The effects were obviously low budget but they used them in a way that definitely made me afraid at times, especially when they waited until after they gave a bunch of info about night terrors to tell you that just hearing about night terrors makes you more likely to have them. I went to bed that night concerned I was going to see shadow people or demon cats in my room. So while some of the effects seemed cheesy, they were well-used and not overdone in most cases.
So The Nightmare is not a typical horror movie and it may not give you what you’re looking for if you’re after a regular feature, but if you want to learn a little bit about sleep paralysis and hear some real life horror stories that’ll leave you with a slight case of the creepy crawlies, this isn’t a bad pick. It’s definitely one I came out of saying “Hm, that was pretty alright.”
Cory is an author and a writer for video games. He likes to yell at bad horror movies and write reviews about good ones. He is also attending film school at the University of Texas to hopefully make good movies one day. He is also clearly bad at picking just one hobby when there are so many fun things to do. Ask him about his cat if you’re having a bad day, or if you like cat pictures.